Channel Clashes


A war characterized by individual courage and tenacity are the clashes between coastal forces in the years following the collapse of France in 1940. In that year, the Germans gained access to the British Channel, and started to harass merchant shipping alongside Britain's coasts. The Allied in turn continuously engaged the few German convoys passing through the same waters. This battle, which was primarily fought by motortorpedoboats and aircraft, continued almost to the last day of the war. Unknown to many, Dutch crews took an active and successful part in this war of attrition.

The Boats

Motor Torpedo Boats, or MTBs in short, were small, which first showed their teeth during the First World War. In the 1930s, the Germans developed the "Schnellboote", or "E-boats" as the Allied called them. In a remarkably effective series of designs, they combined a speed of 40 knots with armour, a heavy torpedo armament (two tubes and up to four torpedoes) and a wide array of machine-guns (20, 30 and 40 mm). Their Schnellboote were propelled by diesel engines, which proved an advantage in combat. Not only did these give the S-boats an extended range, their fuel was far less flammable than the high-octane gasoline of the British boats.

The British took a different route: the MTBs were smaller, built of wood, with only two torpedoes and fewer guns. Unable to design fast diesel engines, the British equipped their boats with petrol engines, which used highly-flammable high-octane gasoline. Derived from this type were Motor Gun Boats, which did not have torpedoes but a heavier gun armament instead. Clearly, the Allied crews were placed at a disadvantage by the inferior characteristics of their equipment, but they often compensated these shortcomings with aggression.

The men fighting this war were often young, since the physical and mental strain of night fighting was enormous.

Origins of the Dutch MTB-service

The Royal Netherlands Navy had recognized the merits of the small MTBs before the war, which fitted perfectly in the contemporary strategic concepts. The small craft could handle themselves against larger opponents, and were especially suited for action against invasion convoys close to shore. The first boats entered service in the late 1920s. These were replaced by twenty boats of British design, which were ordered shortly before the start of the war. The prototype, TM.51, was ordered at a British yard, and this ship took part in the fighting for Rotterdam, during the German invasion in May 1940. As her sisters were still on the slips in Holland, she was the only one to escape to Britian, and took part in several fights in the Channel.

TM-51 was loaned to the Royal Navy in 1940 and renamed MGB.46, but the boat was returned for duty in the RNN in June, 1941. In September of that year, she took part in a raid by the 3rd MGB-flotilla on a German convoy, which prompted a great deal of interest from London officials. It was then and there that an impulse was given to increase the number of boats in active service. Between March and June, 1942, four boats were commissioned as MTB.203, 204, 235 and 240 for service with the 9th MTB-flotilla. In April 1944, the 2nd MTB-flotilla was commissioned with five Dutch boats: MTB.418, 432, 433, 436 and 437. These were in fact MGBs, which were earmarked for conversion back to MTBs, which apparently never happened. The end of the MTB-service (officially commissioned on January 15, 1944 with at first one, later two flotillas) came soon thereafter; much personnel was needed to form the socalled "Port Parties": small groups of men who were to ready the battered ports of the Netherlands for the import of goods. On September 5, 1944, the Dutch MTB-service was decommissioned, only eight months after it had been founded.

Central figure in this story is Lieutenant-Commander E.H. Larive, and this story wouldn't be complete without at least a short description of his career.

Etienne Henri "Hans" Larive was born on September 23, 1915 in Singapore. In 1934, he went to the naval academy from which he graduated in 1937. In May 1940, he had just returned from his tour of duty in the Netherlands East Indies on board the destroyer Van Galen. The ship arrived in Den Helder just a few days before the German attack on Holland, just in time to be sunk by German bombers near Rotterdam, in an attempt to prevent the German paratroopers from using Waalhaven aerodrome. Larive distinguished himself by calmly navigating the ship through the narrow channel. His conduct inspired others around him.

After the Dutch capitulation, all navy personnel was pressed to promise on their word of honour, not to engage in any hostile activities against the Germans. Larive with a few others bluntly refused, and they were sent to a German concentration camp near Soest, Germany. After a first attempt that failed, but brought him very close to the Swiss border, he tried again, this time from the maximum-security POW-camp at Colditz, and succeeded.

Via Switzerland, Spain and Gibraltar, he reached Great Britain in December 1941, where he requested to be assigned to the Dutch MTBs. During the following two years, he would remain Senior Officer for the Dutch MTB-service, often distinguishing himself during missions. After the service was disbanded in 1944, Larive became head of the Naval Press Agency [1], a post he held until his retirement in July 1946. He was employed by the Shell company in various positions. During 1950, he wrote his memoirs titled Vannacht varen de Hollanders [2].

Anti-shipping strikes

The boats of the Dutch flotillas fought the war in the Channel area with as much daring and tenacity as their British and German counterparts, and they achieved results accordingly. The track record for an average month will show a wide array of activities, ranging from convoy protection to minelaying to putting spies ashore on the occupied mainland, but the boats' main purpose was ofcourse to harass enemy shipping. The most successful anti-shipping action the MTBs took part in was that in the night of 26/27th September, 1943.

MTB.202 (Sublt. Bommezijn, also flagship for Lt. Cdr. Larive), MTB.204 (Lt. Jorissen) and MTB.231 (Lt. Van Eeghen) were on "short notice", which basically meant they had to be ready to sail at any time. Aerial reconnaissance indicated that a German convoy was forming at Dieppe, probably ready to sail that night. Larive had thought up a daring plan of attack, which also included the British MGBs 108, 116 and 118 under overall command of Lieutenant R.B. Rooper, R.N. Larive's plan placed the MTBs close to shore, waiting for an opportunity to launch their deadly "fishes", while the MGBs would engage the escorts, thus diverting attention away from the Dutch boats.

The MTBs were in position at about 0200, about 5 miles from Point du Haut Banc. Larive moved his boats closer to shore at about 0250. Fifteen minutes later, the hydrophones picked up the sound of screws, while the 108 reported blips on her radar screen around the same time. Both indicated the enemy was approaching from the southwest. The MTBs moved even closer to shore, waiting for the convoy to pass by. Unfortunately, a few stray starshells exploded in the air close enough for the MTBs to be noticed by a German minesweeper. 202, 204 and 231 sped away at high speed, while the MGBs engaged the German escorts to cover their retreat.

The mosquito boats moved close to shore again, hoping the Germans wouldn't assume the boats would try this tactic a second time. The convoy passed by at 9 knots, with the MTBs tracking their course. 204 launched two torpedoes at about 0400 from 700 metres distance, while 202 and 231 launched only moments later. A bright flash of light, followed by a wallowing cloud of smoke, emerged from the stern of a heavily-laden freighter. A sirene was clearly audible over the water. Since 202 and 231 had launched only moments before, it must have been 231's torpedoes that did the fatal damage.

231 and 204 sped away at full speed through an intense barrage of artillery fire. The MGBs under Roper engaged the German escorts in a running fight, to cover the Dutch boats' retreat. Both 231 and 204 were out of torpedoes and headed back to base, but 202 with Larive on board still had a torpedo left, and turned for another crack at the convoy. 202 moved to a position about 600 metres away, where the crewmen on deck could clearly see trawlers and minesweepers moving about, apparently picking up survivors. It was unfortunate that the remaining torpedo was defective, forcing the boat to return to Dover with her last fish still on board!

Unknown to the Dutch, their action was even more successful than they had imagined. The MTBs returned to base without any casualties, while the British MGBs only had one man wounded. The Germans suffered more grievous losses. The convoy, consisting of the French freighter Madali of 3014 grt and R-boat depot ships Jungingen (800 tons) and Von der Groeben, left Le Havre at 1830 hours on the 26th of September. It was escorted by the escort PA.2, modern minesweepers M.32, M.34 and M.84 and some smaller escorts.

At 0318, V.1507 spotted the MTBs hiding close to shore, and opened fire. It was after this that the MTBs moved to their new position, from which they launched their second attack. The latter accounted [3] for the Jungingen at 0404, which was blown out of the water. Madali took a direct hit aft on the starboard side at 0405, followed by a second hit forward about a minute later. Madali then sank quickly on an even keel, with her masts still above the surface. The Germans did spot the MTBs running, but could do little to prevent their escape.


The action described above was just one of many convoy battles the Dutch boats were involved in during their active careers. The men and their ships deserve their share of attention, and it is very unfortunate that their efforts seem to be forgotten by the general public. This special, even though small in scope, is intended to shed some light on the history of this interesting yet short-lived unit of the Royal Netherlands Navy.

[1]  The correct Dutch term is Marine-Voorlichtingsdienst, MARVO in short.
[2]  Larive was one of the few Dutchmen to become "Ridder der 4e klasse der Militaire Willemsorde". Among his many decorations were 2 Bronze Crosses and the British Distinguished Service Cross. Larive was commissioned in the RNN as Sublieutenant on August 13, 1937. Promoted to Lieutenant on August 13, 1939. During his career as Senior Officer, he was temporarily promoted to Lieutenant-Commander (starting September 2, 1942).
[3]  Apparently also lost this night was the patrol boat V.1501, a former German whaler. It was reportedly hit by two torpedoes at 0355. Included in Larive's book (see below) is an English report of the action, based upon German logbooks and reports. The loss of V.1501 is not mentioned. Perhaps the attack by Lieutenant Jorissen in 204 accounted for V.1501 as well?

July 2003: It now appears that the V.1501 was not sunk in the attack by the Dutch MTB's, since the reported sinking position was a considerable distance southwest of the attack. The information provided by Bosscher (see below) apparently is incorrect.










E.H. Larive "Vannacht varen de Hollanders", Amsterdam, 1963
K.W.L. Bezemer "Verdreven doch niet verslagen", Hilversum, 1967
K.W.L. Bezemer "Zij vochten op de Zeven Zeeën", Utrecht, 1954
P.S. van 't Haaff/M.J.C. Klaassen "Gedenkboek Adelborsten-opleiding 1854-1954", Bussum, 1954
Ph.M. Bosscher "De Koninklijke Marine in de Tweede Wereldoorlog", vol.3, Franeker, 1990

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